Spiritual leaders are a repository of pain and angst. Devotees lay all their troubles, heartaches, guilt, anger and jealousies at the guru’s feet and emerge unburdened. Not once do they stop to wonder how the guru deals with it all. Or whether he might have his own sorrows.
Bhaiyyuji Maharaj, who sought to alleviate the anguish of tens of thousands of followers, could not process his own suffering and put a period to his life. Or so the brief suicide note found by the police at his residence seems to indicate. In public, he was poised and confident, a picture of infallibility. Like all gurus, he appeared centred and self-assured, a veritable ocean of calm capable of submerging any number of woes without a ripple. But lately, the more perceptive of his followers had begun to suspect that he was not at peace. A devotee who met him last month observed, “His eyes are dead”.
Why would Bhaiyyuji Maharaj, who enjoyed the love of a vast army of followers, tremendous clout and considerable wealth, apart from captivating looks and good health, shoot himself in the temple with a licensed revolver? The conundrum calls for further investigation. The private troubles and “stress” of which his note speaks, were hardly unusual.
Certainly, he had suffered several bereavements in the last few years. His parents and his first wife passed away within a short period of each other and his second marriage, last year, reportedly met with reproach from his followers and his only child, Kuhoo. She and her late mother had lived apart from him in Pune. Gurus, however, operate in the public rather than the private sphere. That is their raison d’etre. They leave their families behind and go out into the world to spread their message. They embrace all of humanity. Their concerns are thus far wider than those of regular householders.
Bhaiyyuji was no different. He reached out to lakhs of people through his trust, undertaking a wide range of social service programmes. He was very clear about his mission and saw himself as a social reformer and a nationalist. Social justice was a particular concern. He stood out among his contemporaries, because religion and ritual were not central to his beliefs. So, he rarely visited temples and refused to travel outside the country. He sought to dovetail spiritualism with desh-bhakti and exhorted his followers to serve their country.
Bhaiyyuji, like most modern gurus, made no bones about enjoying the good things of life. His garments were impeccably tailored, he was always groomed to the last hair and was rarely seen without expensive accessories. He drove high-end cars, which were his preferred mode of travel. When meeting devotees, he installed himself on a gilded throne and addressed them in a deep, hypnotic voice.
Occasionally, he would show up at a public function in jeans and T-shirt. He was fond of ghazals and played a mean guitar. His inner circle of friends included iconic singer Lata Mangeshkar, actor Milind Gunaji and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. In the evenings, he would entertain his buddies with jokes, anecdotes and music. He liked to present himself as something of a heroic figure, fond of horse-riding and swordplay.
His PR was excellent, although he was known for blunt speaking. He would say that any form of injustice, particularly class or gender-based, was anathema to him. Organic farming and environment were among his pet projects and he exhorted everyone who came to see him to plant a tree. For good measure, he would hand over a sapling. He had visited Delhi last month to discuss a sustainable farming project.
Bhaiyyuji was very much a ‘political’ guru, with a network cutting across party lines. He had a warm relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Nitin Gadkari, Pratibha Patil, Vilasrao Deshmukh and many others, judging from the pictures which grace the walls of his ashram in Indore.
Those who interacted closely with him did notice that his customary joie de vivre was missing, but there seemed to be no obvious reason for distress. He had been honoured by the Madhya Pradesh government recently and even offered the status of a minister. In keeping with his belief that spiritual leaders should not accept posts, he declined.
The recent entente between the Shiv Sena and BJP in Maharashtra would also have been a source of satisfaction for him. He was known for trying to mediate between rival parties and politicians and played a role in the negotiations between anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and the UPA government in 2011.
If anything, his influence had grown of late, despite the disquiet among his devotees regarding his second marriage. He had cut down on extensive travels, perhaps to spend more time with his family. He appeared to have trouble balancing his spiritual persona with his duties as a grihastha.
His journey was a long and colourful one. He grew up in a village, doted upon by his mother, friends and relatives. He became an engineer and worked as a model before deciding on a spiritual calling. His mother worried about him constantly. “He never holds a grudge, even when people take advantage of him. He says he is like a train; people get on and get off”, she said. That train has now reached its final destination.
Bhavdeep Kang is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author.